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Mental Illnesses

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What do you think of when you hear that someone is experiencing a mental illness? Some people feel concern, fear, or confusion. Some even avoid those who experience mental illnesses. But mental illnesses are just like any other illness: everyone deserves care, help, and support.

What are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges, but with the right supports, a person can get back on a path to recovery and wellness.

It’s important to understand that there are many different types of mental illness that affect people in different ways. Within each mental illness, people may have very different symptoms and challenges. However, symptoms are just one piece. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses.

Some people don’t see the name of a diagnosis as an important part of their journey, while others prefer the medical terms to describe the illness. No matter how people talk about their experiences, they will likely need to use medical terms if they seek help in the health system. This is just how the system works right now, but it isn’t the only way to talk about wellness.

Different mental illnesses

Health professionals divide mental illnesses into several different groups based on signs or symptoms. Common groups of mental illnesses include:

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are all related to anxiety. They may include excessive and uncontrollable worry, strong fears around everyday things or situations, unwanted thoughts, panic attacks, or fears around a past scary situation. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, and they can create barriers in people’s lives. Panic disorder and phobias are examples of anxiety disorders.

Mood disorders

Mood disorders all affect a person’s mood, the way they feel. This can affect every part of a person’s life. When someone experiences a mood disorder, they may feel sad, hopeless, tired, or numb for long periods of time. At times, some people experience an unusually “high” mood and feel powerful and energetic, but this can also create problems. Depression and bipolar disorder are examples of mood disorders.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders really aren’t about food. They are complicated illnesses that are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. Eating disorders may include seriously restricting how much food a person eats, bingeing, or purging food. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are examples of eating disorders.

Psychotic disorders

Psychosis is a health problem that affects how people understand what is real and what isn’t real. People may sense things that aren’t real or strongly believe things that can’t be real. Schizophrenia is one example of a psychotic disorder.

Personality disorders

Personality disorders are patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that may last for a long time and create challenges in a person’s life. People who experience personality disorders may have difficulties developing healthy and satisfying relationships with others, managing their emotions well, avoiding harmful behaviour, and working toward important life goals. Personality disorders can affect the way people understand and view themselves and others and cope with problems. Borderline personality disorder is one example of a personality disorder.

Childhood disorders

This is a large group of mental illnesses that start to affect people when they are young, though some people are not diagnosed until they’re older. One example of a disorder in this group is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD), which affects a person’s ability to focus, complete tasks, plan or organize, sit still, or think through actions.

Dementia

Dementia refers to a group of symptoms. It can be caused by a disease that mainly affects nerve cells in the brain or can be associated with many other medical conditions. Dementia impacts a person’s memory, language abilities, concentration, organization skills, mood, and behaviours. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia.

A note on suicide

Suicide, when someone ends their life on purpose, is not a mental illness in itself. Not all people who die by suicide experience a mental illness. However, suicide may be linked to many different mental illnesses. It’s important to take any talk or thoughts of suicide seriously and seek help.

What can I do about it?

Experiencing a mental illness can be very distressing. You may wonder if you’ll feel like yourself again. You may not know what’s happening to you, and you may worry about other people’s reactions. It’s important to know that it’s not your fault and it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s important to seek help early. Finding help early will get you on the road to recovery faster and may even reduce the risk of problems in the future.

Treatment often includes a few different approaches, for example, counselling, medication and self-care. Support groups can connect people with shared experiences. And there are many self-help strategies to try. Some people may also find extra supports like income and housing. Each person has their own preferences and goals, and recovery plans should reflect that. Contact your local CMHA branch to find help and support in your community.

How can I help a loved one?

When someone you love experiences a mental illness, you may have conflicting feelings. You may feel worried about their future, and feel relieved that the problem has a name. You may even wonder if you’ve done anything to cause their illness. These feelings, and many more, are normal.

You can be an important person in your loved one’s recovery. Ask what you can do to help. Emotional support is important, but don’t forget about practical help with daily tasks, if needed. Remember to take care of yourself and find support, too. Contact your local CMHA branch to find resources in your community.

How can I make a difference in my community?

Mental illness affects everyone. People who experience a mental illness may face challenges in their communities. Capable workers may not find good employment. Housing may come with restrictions or may be limited by inadequate income. Many challenges around living with a mental illness have to do with unfair attitudes and discrimination. You can make a difference by advocating for people who experience mental illnesses. Let leaders and policy-makers know that your community includes everyone, and support organizations that work to give everyone a voice.

Do you need more help?

Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.

Founded in 1918, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support recovery from mental illness.

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Sheryl Wedderburn

Courtice, Ontario – Chief Executive Officer/Officer of the Board

Sheryl Wedderburn is the Chief Executive Officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Durham. Since her appointment in 2021 she has led the organization through innovative key milestones. The transformation and modernization of housing programs for people with serious mental illness; attaining Accreditation with exemplary standing and raising the profile of the organization within the mental health and addictions sector by co-partnering with lead service providers to support an integrated care model for people living with Schizophrenia. Sheryl has a proven track record in removing barriers between providers and designing client-centred systems while championing the expansion of the traditional catchment areas moving towards equitable access to care. The former CEO and Principal Consultant for Bernard Consultancy, Sheryl has worked dutifully with Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operating Officers, inspiring them to cultivate inventive strategic plans, conducting quality-driven operational reviews and advancing the development, mentorship and successioning of their leadership teams. As a seasoned Governor, Sheryl has served on various Boards since 1986, from hospital sector to community. In addition to her role as Officer of the esteemed CMHA Durham Board of Directors, she serves on the Board of the Alzheimer Society Durham Region, where she advocates for enhanced services to meet the growing diverse needs of people living with Alzheimer and associated dementias. She is the Founding President for JCAN, a registered not-for-profit charity serving the Afro-Caribbean population. A life-long learner, Sheryl holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Health Sciences and Certified Health Executive designation from the Canadian College of Health Leaders. Past cross-appointments include Adjunct Faculty for the Nursing Degree Program at University of Toronto and Ontario Tech University.

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Kerrie Wriker

Colborne, Ontario – Chief Operating Officer/Board Secretary

Kerrie has over 20 years of experience working in the community-based mental health and addictions sector and has held various leadership roles throughout her career. She attained formal education in Recreation and Leadership (Ontario Tech University), Professional Management (York University), and Harm Reduction. She is also a Green Belt in leading process improvement methodology Lean Six Sigma and holds a Change Management Practitioner certification. In her current role as CMHA Durham’s Chief Operating Officer, she effectively fulfills layered reporting obligations to numerous levels of government and ensures all services are integrated, planned, delivered, and evaluated in accordance with professional standards.
As a caregiver to a loved one with a severe mental disorder, Kerrie is a firm believer that connected and caring communities promote wellness. To that end, Kerrie volunteers as a panel member with the Ontario Caregiver Organization, member of an Advisory Board within her township, and is a Board Trustee with CMHA National Pension Plan in addition to her work with CMHA Durham.

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Sarah Moore

Ajax, Ontario – Board Member

Sarah is an accessibility advocate with a passion for cultivating inclusion, standing up to stigma, and breaking down barriers alongside people with visible and invisible disabilities. She is an Accredited Municipal Professional with more than 15 years of local government experience. Her portfolio includes specialties in public administration, accessibility compliance, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as volunteer management. Sarah is an Honours graduate of the University of Toronto and obtained a certificate in Accessibility Practices from Toronto Metropolitan University. With both a personal and professional connection to mental health, supporting family members, friends, and colleagues with mood disorders, Sarah is eager to contribute to the promotion and enhancement of positive mental health within the Region as a member of the CMHA Durham Board of Directors. Outside of work, Sarah’s hobbies and interests include film, language studies (French and Spanish), baking, and spoiling Riley, her Shih-Tzu.

Nicole Seymour

Whitby, Ontario – Board Member

Nicole Seymour is currently the Chief Regulatory and Compliance Officer for a global property and casualty insurance organization. She has over 20 years of regulatory compliance experience in the insurance and financial industries and has held Chief Compliance Roles at insurers, mutual fund dealers, and life insurance MGAs. Throughout her career, Nicole has implemented successful compliance and regulatory risk management programs at multiple institutions. Continuously committed to her professional development, she holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo and has recently completed the Cambridge Business Sustainability Management Certificate and the Certificate in Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risk Management for Financial Institutions from Osgoode Hall. Nicole lives in Whitby with her husband and four children. She enjoys traveling and being a hockey/soccer mom.

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Katie Cosway

Courtice, Ontario – Board Member

Over the past 15 years, Katie has dedicated her career to guiding organizations to build strong cultures that create inclusive and successful business outcomes. After completing her Honours BA at McMaster University and a post-graduate certificate in Human Resources at Durham College, Katie spent 10 years in organizational and career management consulting, delivering services across North America. She later took on a leadership role within the energy sector, where she focused on learning and development to support the growing demands of that industry. A certified Change Management Practitioner and Human Resources Leader (CHRL), Katie also has experience serving on a non-profit board within the financial sector and brings a governance/policy strength that has resulted in increased performance of the teams and projects she’s worked on. Growing up in Durham Region, and currently residing in Courtice with her family, Katie has a deep appreciation for community services such as the ones provided by CMHA Durham.

Jason Langley

Clarington, Ontario – Board Member

Jason is a Senior Strategy & Innovation leader at a large North American financial institution. With a cross border mandate, Jason has built a brand rooted in strategic thought leadership and has a track record of driving multi-dimensional transformation focused on growth and the customer experience. Jason is passionate about coaching and developing future leaders and is a staunch advocate for mental health in both his professional and personal life. He holds both an MBA and Certificate in Responsible Leadership from Queen’s University, a Bachelor of Commerce from Ontario Tech University, and is a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Having grown up in Oshawa, Jason now lives in Clarington with his wife and daughter. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors and is an avid fisherman.

Duncan Kerr

Brooklin, Ontario – Board Member

Duncan Kerr is an experienced executive currently serving as the Director of Sustainability and Training with Toronto Hydro. He is responsible for developing and managing short- and long-term sustainability, training, and workforce skills development strategies, as well as directing and managing the organization’s sustainability and training systems, processes, and programs. Duncan also drives change in the pursuit of compliance and continual improvement of environment, social, and governance (ESG).  Prior to Toronto Hydro, Duncan held professional and leadership roles in both health and safety and operations at General Motors in Canada, the United States, and Australia. His impact is supported by a diverse education, including a Bachelor of Kinesiology from McMaster University, a Master of Science in Biomechanics from the University of Guelph, and a Master of Business Administration from Wayne State University.  He is also a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) and an Environmental Professional (EP). Duncan has lived in Brooklin for the last 15 years, with his wife of over 20 years and their two sons.

Elizabeth McSavaney

Pickering, Ontario – Board Member

Elizabeth is currently a Human Resources (HR) Executive for a leading global insurance organization.  Elizabeth has obtained her Canadian Human Resources Leader (CHRL) designation and carries a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from the University of Windsor. Over the course of her career, she has led teams in both the private and public sectors across North America.  She has driven complex transformational change projects in corporate and manufacturing environments and has worked in a variety of HR disciplines. In addition to her HR qualifications, Elizabeth has served as a professor at Algonquin College’s School of Business. Beyond work, Elizabeth is a passionate health advocate, with a Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She keenly understands the value that focused strategies can bring to the health outcomes of individuals, organizations, and the broader community. When Elizabeth is not at work she enjoys CrossFit, running, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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Earlene Worrall

Blackstock, Ontario – Board Member

Earlene seeks to leverage her knowledge and skills in ways that make a meaningful difference for others, both professionally and personally. With expertise in brand-building, marketing, and strategy, she has spent the last fourteen years working with healthcare clients in a trusted advisor role to help them tackle their toughest strategic challenges. As a Partner with Ipsos Healthcare Advisory, Earlene deeply understands the underlying drivers of behaviour, uncovers the insights that matter, and unfailingly pulls through to actionable strategy – ultimately helping to improve the lived experience of patients, their loved ones, and the healthcare providers who treat them. Earlene is equally committed to contributing to her community. Her volunteer roles over the past two decades have spanned her interests in the environment, the arts, social services, and healthcare. Earlene holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s University. She and her husband live in Blackstock.

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Melissa Beaucaire

Oshawa, Ontario – Board Member

Melissa has a rich background in the non-profit sector with more than 25 years of experience. Tapping into her formal education in Sociology (BA, University of Ottawa) and Early Childhood Education (Honours Diploma, Algonquin College), she is currently a Manager for Children’s Services in the Durham Region. Melissa has also previously served on the board of non-profit organizations as secretary and treasurer. A lifelong learner, Melissa has prioritized her professional development in the areas of mental health, diversity, special needs, addiction, management, and leadership. She recognizes the importance of the work that CMHA Durham does to provide services for the community and those living with mental health challenges, and she is honoured to support the mission. Besides Melissa’s personal and professional pursuits, family is integral to her life. Melissa and her family are long-time residents of the Durham Region. 

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Jim Hunt

Nestleton, Ontario – Board Member

Jim Hunt is a retired management professional, whose career touched many essential business operations, from manufacturing to customer satisfaction. He is an outside-the-box thinker with a Mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo (whose handbook he co-authored). An effective problem solver, Jim was one of a few people in North America to successfully manage the implementation of operation scheduling software. Jim also served on the boards and advisory committees of several noteworthy organizations, including Sir Sandford Fleming College and the Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario, where he was a board member for nine years. Jim’s investment in accessible and effective mental health care is inspired by the experiences of his loved ones who live with mental disorders. As a resident of Scugog, Jim’s work with CMHA Durham is a testament to his commitment to ensuring care is available to those in his community who need it most.

Dave Wheeler

Whitby, Ontario – Board Chair

Dave Wheeler is a passionate advocate for mental health, and a trusted advisor to CMHA Durham. He has brought his empathetic and effective approach to professional and organizational advancement to roles at several notable companies, including his current position as senior manager of sales and operations at one of Canada’s leading financial institutions. Dave’s expertise is backed by a Master of Business Administration from Queens University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from York University. As CMHA Durham Board Chair, Dave effectively develops strong relationships with stakeholders, while ensuring the appropriate processes are in place to monitor and measure the organization’s performance and efficacy outcomes. Beyond his professional endeavours, Dave enjoys travelling, golf, hockey, baseball, running, and coaching sports.

Preya Singh-Cushnie

Ajax, Ontario – Board Member

Preya Singh-Cushnie is deeply committed to making a positive impact and has accumulated more than 23 years of leadership experience across various financial services organizations, from global giants to mid-sized firms, both internationally and domestically. She currently holds a senior leadership role at the Ontario Medical Association, overseeing the insurance division serving 45,000 physicians in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. In addition to her insurance responsibilities, Preya actively supports the association’s advocacy efforts, contributing to physician and patient care initiatives.

Preya approaches leadership with a focus on empathy, transparency, and a clear sense of purpose. She has a knack for facilitating positive changes by collaborating effectively with internal and external partners, committees, and the OMA Insurance Board to advance the organization’s programs and advocacy work. Preya is also a Licensed Life Insurance Agent and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from York University.

Her dedication extends to promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, with a special focus on supporting mental wellness initiatives. This commitment has led her to serve as a Director and Treasurer for CMHA Durham. Before her involvement with CMHA Durham, Preya spent four years as a member and Vice Chair of the Town of Ajax Diversity and Community Engagement Committee.